01 April, 2020
With the unprecedented measures being put in place by the government to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, RPs are undoubtedly considering what action needs to be taken to make sure both tenants and staff are kept safe.
The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) wrote to RPs last week to confirm its position amidst the coronavirus outbreak. The letter confirms that "Across the sector, the shared priority is to maintain tenant safety, including addressing emergency repairs and compliance with health and safety requirements".
Whilst RPs have extensive arrangements in place for staff to work from home, this is not possible for repairs teams and operatives conducting emergency and urgent repairs. The RSH has advised that RPs should manage risks to staff safety and follow wider social distancing guidance on limiting the spread of coronavirus.
In a bid to protect both tenants and staff, many RPs are now considering whether they can share health information. A statement from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) last week stated that data protection is not a barrier to the management of public health issues.
RPs must still comply with the data protection principles and, therefore, must have a lawful reason to share personal information relating to coronavirus. Where tenant information is being shared in order to protect staff, RPs are likely to have a number of lawful bases to process information for that reason under data protection law. These include where processing is necessary for compliance with a legal obligation, such as their duty to protect staff from coronavirus under health and safety legislation, or where processing is necessary to protect the vital interests of an individual.
Many RPs are also considering what measures they can take to protect their vulnerable and/or elderly tenants, many of whom will have been told to self-isolate by the government for at least 12 weeks. This includes considering what assistance the RP, as their landlord, can provide and whether information can be shared with partner organisations who can provide further support. This may typically involve targeting particularly vulnerable tenants for particular services both within the organisation and externally.
Again, the ICO has confirmed in their statement last week that data protection is not a barrier to the provision of health care services and the management of public health issues. The ICO has recognised that, given the emergency footing, decisions need to be taken and information needs to be shared urgently and therefore it is understandable that usual data sharing protocols may not always be followed.
As stated above, RPs must still comply with the data protection principles and will need to have a lawful reason to share personal information about tenants relating to coronavirus. Where RPs want to share information in order to protect vulnerable tenants, they are lawful reasons to do so contained in data protection law. These reasons include their duty to protect tenants under health and safety legislation or where it is necessary to protect the vital interests of tenants.
Whilst RPs will have a legal justification for sharing personal information relating to coronavirus, they will still want to ensure they comply with the data protection principles to make sure this information is used appropriately. This will include ensuring that personal information relating to coronavirus is kept secure. This can be achieved by minimising access, collecting the minimum amount of personal information required, complying with retention periods for health information and providing adequate staff training.
RPs should take comfort from the ICO's statement which confirms that they will take into account the compelling public interest in the current health emergency if issues of data protection compliance are brought to its attention and the confirmation that data protection is not a barrier to the management of public health.
A copy of the ICO's statement can be found here - https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/data-protection-and-coronavirus/
A copy of the RSH's latest statements and updates relating to coronavirus can be found here - https://www.gov.uk/government/news/rsh-statement-on-coronavirus
For more information contact Bethany Paliga in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 01254 222347. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.